Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Parenting Dilemma 3,465

I have written before on this subject of the sensitive nature of two of my boys, and I must admit, I think about it constantly. While reading one of my favorite momma bloggers today, this post struck me head on. She's a far better writer than I am, but so much of what she says resonates with my experience parenting the twins, most especially C. I ended up commenting on her post, but then wrote Emily at Wheels on the Bus a private email. I've decided to make that not-so-private by sharing some of it here:

I cannot help but see the similarities between Zach & C. C's twin, S, is also academically ahead of his peers (great at reading/Sudoku/etc) but he is less intense & more comfortable socially than his brother so I worry less about him on this front. C's the type of kid who devours books, remembers everything he reads, loves to share facts, is excited by multiplication, & has an incredibly strong sense of what is exactly right & how things should be just so. He also falls apart when things don't go his way, when he gets frustrated, when people don't comply with his wishes, etc. He cries easily & frequently, & he has a hard time letting anything go. I don't walk around talking how gifted he is or how early he was reading, etc. because I know this doesn't go over well with folks, but I am struggling on how to get guidance on parenting him because with these gifts come a host of issues. He has very few coping skills outside of crying & has now started muttering when he is especially upset, "It is a very bad day, a very bad day" which is heartbreaking beyond belief.

I worry tremendously about his 'likability factor' even though my husband keeps explaining to me that we can't make C likable. I worry that he will be that weird smart kid in the class, that he'll piss people off by correcting them frequently, that peers will label him a 'cry baby.' I am having a hard time finding the line between trying to smooth the way for him all the time & recognizing that I can't smooth it all away, that some of his frustration is necessary, that if he doesn't' experience some of these painful things, he will never learn the necessary coping skills. But just where is that line?

Take, for instance, our newest challenge. Our city has a wonderful preK/K soccer program. In the fall, the boys were not interested in participating & that was just fine for P & me. This spring, they said they wanted to play so we signed them up-- our first foray into sports (outside a 'get your ya-yas out' gymnastics class last year in Maine). The program is all about having a good time with soccer & skill-building with these two lovely British coaches at the helm. They do not play on teams; they play fun, skill-building games, & the practices occur at different public parks so you can just go whenever you like, no pressure. Both boys were delighted with the first practices-- so excited & happy & bouncing along.

After a few times, C started to show some cracks. He declared he wasn't very good at dribbling the ball, sometimes it was kicked away from him during the games (the point of some of the games), etc. & tears started to fall. Then came the four on four "fun" games-- where the kids played a sort-of, actual game. This was the undoing for C. Even though the coaches didn't keep score, C kept score. Even though all the kids are running around bumping into each other, C was sure everyone was intentionally pushing him. He got extremely upset. Now, he has not wanted to go to soccer. I am not interested in forcing him to do something he does not want to do extracurricularly so we have been relatively easygoing about this. S loves soccer though, so S gets to keep playing, & since I am the only parent home at most soccer times, I must bring F & C with me to the fields. The first time C sat out, we brought him a chair & a book & he was content. But the book lost its power as the practice progressed & C then wanted to play in some of the skill-building games, but not the four-on-four.

This is when it gets tricky for me: Do I let him participate in what he likes, what is fun for him, but allow him to sit out when he doesn't like something? This is where my upbringing gets in the way of my parenting. I was from the 'you never quit anything' family, you do as you are told, you suck it up no matter what, etc. OK-- so he's five now & we are so not hyper-competitive about sports. I don't blame him for not wanting to participate in the games-games. But what happens at school when he has to do things he doesn't like, he can't sit them out (especially next year in public school). By allowing him to participate, but only in the things he enjoys at soccer, am I sending him a bad message? At what age do I draw the line: Well, if you want to play, you need to do it all, even the things you are not crazy about?

At the last practice, in which only S attended because P was home & could hang with the two other boys, I talked with the coach about C. He was quick to say that C should come to practice, play the starting games that he loves, & then when they are breaking the kids up into teams, he can just sit out over with me. I guess this is how we will approach this for now & see how it unfolds, but I feel unsettled about it all.


J said...

Can't help but respond, although I should be working, however, since bright kids are my job I guess this qualifies as work. Being overly sensitive is rather common in birght/highly gifted children. Also perfectionism can play heavily on how a child views himself/his world and the way he perceives it. My stand would be "don't quit", but from a child's point of view it is heck I want to do what I feel successful with....thinking that he may not be a professional soccer player, maybe just doing skills would be fine.
Loved the F story before 9.

Andrea Lani said...

Sara--This is well-written and very thoughtful. I usually have considered M sensitive, but he's a pretty mild case compared to what you deal with (times two!). I don't know if it helps to keep in mind that "gifted" kids often have asynchronous development--that the social/emotional piece can lag behind the intellectual. Which means he may grow out of it. Although it doesn't help to have a kid that's so smart behave so "unreasonably" (and it probably even throws other people who don't know him off even more!) And I know we all worry about our kids and want them to be liked (and not live through whatever humiliations we went through), but I think the most important thing is that you love him unconditionally (I know you do) and that he like himself--the rest will follow. I think you are handling things beautifully--giving C the opportunity to try new things, but also the space to back off when it overwhelms him, and all the love and support and that unyielding patience I have witnessed. I know it's not easy in the meltdown moment, but there are a lot of wonderfully positive things about sensitivity that would be useful to remember at times like these. I'd like to recommend the book, "Raising Your Spirited Child," but since I've only had the time/energy to get through the first two chapters myself, I'm not sure if it would be helpful or not!

Anonymous said...

Sort of funny -- I was deciding between reading blogs and replying to your email, and I chose blogs, logged on, and read this post first.

You handled the soccer issue perfectly. He cannot go to practice and do some things but not others if that is not acceptable to the people running the show. But, since it is, he is actually fully participating -- it is his issue with the coaches, and they are happy to have him do it his way. Later, when he is in other activities, you can hold this line: "It is fine with me if you only do some of it, but you'll have to talk to the coach/teacher."

We ran into a similar problem in London, where the kids are rude and the rain is wet. Zach started coming home saying how he cannot run as fast as his peers or they are always running away from him (he was stuck as the chaser in the chasing games). It made me so angry to know the ring-leader was a child who could not read his own name at 3, and Zach, 5 months younger, always told him which name tag was his. I had NEVER pointed out how much further along Zach was to the mother, out of respect for kids being in different places, but you think she could have shown the same respect when I told her how much her son was hurting Zach.

I wish it were always like when they were learning to crawl, and all we had to worry about were electrical sockets.

Jennifer said...

Actually, it's a plus that he enjoys the skill building part since most kids get focused on only wanting to play the game. If he is able to build his skills, eventually he will learn that his skills will make the game better for him, that he will be able to get the ball and do something with it. This won't click for a long time, but he may turn out to be a good player because he liked the skill building part and developed those skills. Knowing how much he likes learning and acquiring knowledge and new skills, it makes sense that learning how to do something would be more appealing to him and that the reality of seeing how hard it is to use those skills in a game (as someone who as an adult has taken a couple of soccer clinics and is still working at trying to implement the skills I can do so well in clinics but not during games) probably throws him off.

I agree with Emily that having C negotiate this issue with his coaches is a good idea, it takes the burden off of you of trying to get him to do something and since they are running things, they have a good idea of what is an acceptable level of participation and what is not.